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Britten - String Quartets
“The Belcea Quartet have become prominent players on the chamber-music scene. In the concert hall, their rather balletic style of performance can be alienating, but in these Britten recordings you can appreciate their high level of technical accomplishment without the risk of visual distraction.
Collectors familiar with any of the earlier sets of the quartets may not warm immediately to the Belcea's exceptionally dramatic way with the music's contrasting materials. But almost nothing is forced or eccentric here. The hell-for-leather tempo adopted for the First's finale is genuinely exciting, not a scramble, and although there are a few obtrusive, fussy details in the outer movements of No 2 the overall impression is powerfully convincing. No 3 is even better, at least in the earlier movements, bringing a sense of barely suppressed anger to some of Britten's most personal and allusive music. In the last movement the phrasing is occasionally over-pointed: yet, despite tempi that make this account significantly faster than the excellent Magginis and considerably faster than the stately Brodskys, the effect reinforces the true consistency of tone and character which underpins this notably diverse score. This is one of the best-engineered quartet discs you might hope to hear.” Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010
“…for all-round excellence, the Belcea's becomes the new benchmark for these works, surpassing even my previously favoured Amadeus in No. 2 (Decca), and they finish with a spirited account of the Three Divertimenti of 1936.” BBC Music Magazine, June 2005 *****
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Vivaldi - Violin Concertos
“Mullova teams up with one of the most sparkling of the baroque bands around.” BBC Music Magazine, Proms 2007
“Viktoria Mullova isn't quite a Baroque violinist – her Strad is fitted with gut strings, she's using a Baroque bow and she plays very stylishly – but there's something about her sound that betrays the modern virtuoso. Her vibrato is modest but it's used in a way that harks back to her conventional Russian training. Much more important than rating her on a scale of authenticity, however, is to note that it's top-class violin playing: the rhythms are lively and poised, all the passagework is beautifully clear and exact.
The programme is excellent, too, in the way it shows the wide range of Vivaldi's imagination.
The rarely encountered RV187 is a lovely piece, full of delightful original touches, in contrast to the better known Grosso Mogul which, despite its brilliance and its satisfying formal design, is oppressively short of significant ideas.
Il Giardino Armonico provide an immensely spirited accompaniment, four members taking the extra solo roles in Op 3 No 10 with great style. Vivaldi's music needs strong contrasts in performance; it should create a sense of amazement, which these accounts supply in a striking and convincing way. The prevalence of ferocious accents, ultra-short off-the-string bowing, and exaggerated dynamic shading is a little troubling: the strongest, swiftest bow stroke should retain the character of a gesture, rather than a hammer blow. But whether or not you agree, you're likely to enjoy the vigour, colourful variety and sheer expertise of these performances.” Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010
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Henry du Mont - Grands motets for the chapel of Louis XIV at the Louvre
“Henry Du Mont has long been credited as one of the creators, alongside Lully, of the grandmotet, the opulent style of church composition for soloists, choir and orchestra associated with Louis XIV's chapel at Versailles. The Pierre Robert Ensemble take a different view. Noting that Du Mont's 20 Motets pour la Chapelle du Roy, printed two years after his death in 1684, contain the kind of clumsy viola parts reconcilable with the work of a publisher's hack, they propose that such 'posthumous tawdry' can be dispensed with to reveal the originals as more intimate works for five solo singers, two violins and continuo, probably written for pre-Versailles times at the Louvre palace. It's in this form that they present three of the motets here, emphasising their argument by adding the semi-dramatic Dialogus de anima, scored for the same line-up.
When performed and recorded as beautifully and sensitively as they are here, Du Mont's plangent harmonies and dissonances reach into the listener's heart with sensuous clarity. These are near-perfect performances by an ensemble ideal for such ravishing music, and who, in Marcel Beekman, have an haute-contre of striking quality.
Frédéric Desenclos's tidy organ solos break up the programme nicely, but the motets are the stars.” Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010
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“Anne Schwanewilms, already well-known as an interpreter of Arabella and other Strauss heroines, challenges the likes of Della Casa, Schwarzkopf and Janowitz, and isn't put in the shade by the comparison. Her silvery tone soars easily into the grateful lines of these warm, glowing songs, and she has the gift to fine down her tone to ravishing pianissimi. She catches the rich-hued character of Waldseligkeit, the intimacy of Wiegenlied and Meinem Kinde, the sad serenity of Morgen and the inner intensity of Befreit, one of Strauss's most profound settings.
Just once or twice her approach seems a shade self-regarding but, by and large, these are nearideal readings, securely supported by Mark Elder and his orchestra.
This is the latest in the series of recordings emanating from the Hallé and does much to confirm their high place in this country's orchestral hierarchy today. There are many masterly accounts of Don Juan in the catalogue but this one, nicely timed and richly played, is up among the best. By comparison Macbeth, Strauss's first tone-poem and written a year earlier, seems rather an empty piece, successful neither as an evocation of the play nor as a piece in its own right. Elder and the Hallé make as good a case as they can for it and – as a whole – the programme works well, the Lieder sandwiched between the two orchestral works.” Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010
“Fans of the Hallé will be delighted with Mark Elder's intense but spacious accounts of the tone poems here… Schwanewilms often begins with lines of instrumental purity, beautifully attuned to Elder's careful orchestral detail, before negotiating a surge of human emotion of a change of colour: the move to the minor key in 'Wiegenlied' and the recitative while the orchestra holds its breath in 'Morgen'! are especially telling.” BBC Music Magazine, June 2005 *****
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“Pletnev brings Tchaikovsky's music vividly to life” BBC Music Magazine, 1st July 2008
“Mikhail Pletnev's persuasive 1986 recording of Tchaikovsky's 18 Morceaux for Melodiya was unfortunately hampered by strident sound and an ill-tuned piano. Happily, a state-of-the-art situation prevails in this new live recording for Deutsche Grammophon, extending, of course, to Pletnev's own contributions. His caring, characterful and technically transcendent way with this cycle casts each piece in a three-dimensional perspective that honours the composer's letter and spirit beyond the music's 'salon' reputation, while making the most of its pianistic potential. The results are revelatory, akin to, say, Ignaz Friedman's illuminating re-creations of Mendelssohn's Songs Without Words.
The Fifth Morceau, 'Meditation', demonstrates the Pletnev-Tchaikovsky chemistry at its most sublime. The melodies are firmly projected yet flexibly arched over the bar-lines, as if emerging from different instruments, culminating in a febrile central climax that gently dissipates into some of the most ravishing trills on record. In No 8, 'Dialogue', Pletnev elevates Tchaikovsky's quasi parlando with the type of off-hand skill and pinpoint timing of a master actor who knows just which lines to throw away.
Note, too, the deliciously pointed scales and music-box colorations in No 13, 'Echo rustique'.
Shades of Liszt's Third Liebestraum seep into No 14, 'Chant élégiaque', in what amounts to a masterclass in how to sustain long melodies against sweeping accompaniments. A stricter basic pulse throughout No-9, 'Un poco di Schumann', might have made the dotted rhythms and two strategically placed ritenutos more obviously Schumannesque, yet there's no denying the inner logic the looser treatment communicates.
There's extraordinary virtuosity behind the musical insights. For example, the interlocking octaves in the coda to No-7, 'Polacca de concert', are unleashed with Horowitz- like ferocity and not a trace of banging. The rapid, vertigoinducing triplet runs in No 10, 'Scherzo- fantaisie', could scarcely be more even and controlled.
Pletnev is all over the final, unbuttoned trepak in grand style, and he certainly makes the glissandos swing. A fresh, unfettered account of Chopin's C sharp minor Nocturne is offered as an encore to this urgently recommended recital.” Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010
BBC Music Magazine
Instrumental Choice - July 2005
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American Classics - William Bolcom
Measha Brueggergosman, Ilona Davidson (soprano), Joan Morris (mezzo-soprano), Nathan Lee Graham (baritone), Thomas Young (tenor), Tommy Morgan (harmonica), Peter Ruth (harmonica, vocals)
University of Michigan School of Music Symphony Orchestra & Musical Society, Leonard Slatkin
“This is a magnum opus that occupied Bolcom for 25 years, starting as early as 1956. He's drawn on a wide range of musical styles to parallel Blake's method of moving from sophisticated to almost folk idioms. In some features – diatonic writing, English text and children's voices – Britten's Spring Symphony is in the background, but Bolcom is defined by the styles he juxtaposes with carefully calculated transitions in between.
Some of the most memorable moments involve popular idioms, evoking his ragtime performances or the songs he recorded so vividly with his wife Joan Morris. The word-setting is straightforward, reflecting the strophic poems, and refreshingly free from elaboration. The Songs of Innocence are charming and pastoral but in the Songs of Experience there's real anger at the human predicament.
This recording is based on a live performance with massive forces comprising 10 soloists, three choirs totalling almost 350 singers and a full symphony orchestra plus a harmonica and various extra electronic players and percussion.
Nathan Lee Graham is an actor-singer who can project his catchy tunes and spoken poems; Joan Morris exercises all her magic in a range of styles, but Thomas Young seems too consistently declamatory. Christine Brewer is magisterial in numbers that reflect the modernistic side of Bolcom, and Carmen Pelton has a rare purity of sound.
This unique Blake spectacular makes a cumulative impact that represents Bolcom's wide stylistic embrace at its most ambitious.” Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010
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Bowen & Forsyth - Viola Concertos
“York Bowen’s concerto is quirky and gently eccentric, full of unlikely harmonic twists and creatively stretching demands on soloist and orchestra. But the ardent and lucid Power is the real star of the disc” Classic FM Magazine
“During the decade leading up to the First World War, York Bowen, one of the brightest and most prolific young talents in British music, produced no fewer than three piano concertos, two symphonies, a concert overture, Symphonic Fantasia, Concertstücke for piano and orchestra and a tone-poem, The Lament of Tasso. His exquisitely polished and sure-footed Viola Concerto in C minor was written for Lionel Tertis (viola professor at the Royal Academy of Music), who first performed it in March 1908. Lasting nearly 36 minutes, each of its three movements serves up a heady flow of intoxicating melody, all clothed in the deftest orchestral garb (there's a definite Russian tang to proceedings – Bowen clearly knew and loved his Tchaikovsky, Borodin and Rimsky-Korsakov). This new performance is beyond criticism. Not only does Lawrence Power effortlessly surmount every technical challenge, he forms a scintillating parternship with Martyn Brabbins and an uncommonly well-prepared BBC Scottish SO.
A pupil of Stanford, Greenwich-born Cecil Forsyth (1870-1941) played the viola in Henry Wood's Queen's Hall Orchestra (as, indeed, did Bowen) before emigrating to the USA in 1914.
His G minor Concerto (in all likelihood the first for viola by a British composer) was premiered in 1903 by the French virtuoso (and its dedicatee) Emile Férir. Beside its its present companion it strikes a rather more conventional note, but remains an appealingly lyrical and sturdily crafted achievement. The performance is everything one could desire, and the recording is wonderfully ripe and glowing.” Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010
“Power blows clean out of the water any preconceptions of the viola being some kind of lumbering violin. His effortless technical dexterity and cleanfocused sound throughout the range (his upper notes are simply glorious) are also straight out of the Primrose copy-book. Even in a world
overflowing with string players who can seemingly play anything at the drop of a hat, Power has that extra charismatic dimension which has the listener hanging on to his every note” International Record Review
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Herbert Howells - Orchestral Works
“A repackaging of music rarely heard in Howell's lifetime. Not on grounds of quality, surely: two movements for cello and orchestra, a characterful suite The B's, and a song-cycle In Green Ways are all worth resurrecting.” BBC Music Magazine, June 2005 ****
“The inspired suite, The Bs, celebrates the composer's musician friends and colleagues at the Royal College of Music at the beginning of the 1914-18 war...Hickox and the LSO are ardent and communicative advocates of all this fine music...A most attractive bargain reissue, joining together two equally desirable discs.” Penguin Guide, 2011 edition
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